Mexican fiesta with an Asian twist

Five different tacos to try. — Photos: CHING YEE SING

After welcoming us to Flavors of Mexico Asia, chef Ivan Chavvaria Hernandez let us try his favourite Jarritos soda drinks, sweetened with cane sugar and available in seven different flavours.

We opted for Fruit Punch, Tamarind and Lime – the very mild flavours and moderate sweetness caught us by surprise.

Black beans and pico de gallo (chopped tomatoes, onion and serrano pepper with salt, lime juice and cilantro) topped tostadas (Mexican corn chips) served as a simple starter with flavours that popped after dabs of his house-made chilli oil. Containing sunflower and sesame seeds along with peanuts, Hernandez explained that the chilli was a result of Chinese culinary influences.

The trio of Nachos (RM19), Ceviche (RM24) with chips and Coctel de Camaron (RM26) were crunchy and redolent with bright, bold flavours and textures. These irresistible appetisers would melt the steeliest of anyone’s resolve.

Mexican soda drinks are very different from local ones.Mexican soda drinks are very different from local ones.

“In Mexico, it’s common to see vendors selling paper cups of corn chips down by the beach. I’ve tried to replicate the same vibes by using similar plastic plates lined with ‘newsprint’ paper for serving the corn chips,” explains the chef.

Buried under chopped tomatoes, pickled onion with some cheese sauce, pico de gallo, beans, creamed avocado, sour cream, jalapenos and fresh coriander, the nachos drew us back for repeated helpings.

A hint of Japanese influence was noticeable in the ceviche. Fresh, invigorating flavours spurred us to make quick work of the corn chips with the tangy-savoury lime-cured tilapia in seafood broth, diced avocado, tomatoes, onions and fresh herbs.

The addition of some chilli oil onto the sweetish Coctel de Camaron − a tantalising hodge-podge of diced prawns, avocado cubes and onion in smoky chipotle sauce − blew everything out of the park.

Horchata, chilled rice milk.Horchata, chilled rice milk.

Hernandez says the restaurant’s corn chips are made by a homegrown Malaysian company and is the closest to the ones he gets back home, adding: “I only use fresh ingredients, never out of a can.”

We were stoked to sample five different types of Tacos (RM10-RM16 per piece). The Birria Lamb Taco was something to write home about, thanks to the heap of 12-hour braised marinated lamb with fresh herbs, topped with cured onion and guacamole on the thin corn tortilla. Popping the whole scrumptious parcel in the mouth gave instant gratification.

Hongos Taco scored high with its simple yet textural and flavoured tango of blanched spinach, black bean mash, sautéed mushroom and vegetarian sour cream. More complex nuances teased our tastebuds when we sampled Taco de Pollo Al Pastor, the cohesiveness of the marinated chicken with red chillies, achiote (Mexican paste of annatto seeds, cumin, pepper, coriander, oregano, cloves and garlic) and pineapple relish made it rave-worthy.

Ceviche with corn chips.Ceviche with corn chips.

The Taco de Camaron and Taco Baja were familiar − the Asian-slanted tempura prawn with chipotle mayo and pineapple relish, and tempura fish with pico de gallo, coleslaw and sour cream were both agreeable, but not as exciting.

We also had Flautas (RM18) − fried black tortillas (coloured by charcoal powder) stuffed with mozzarella. Accentuated with salsa roja, pico de gallo and sliced radish, these were the real Mexican enchiladas, rather than those cheese-laden baked ones served at Tex-Mex restaurants. This moreish offering alone is worth returning for.

Flautas, or what Mexicans know as enchiladas.Flautas, or what Mexicans know as enchiladas.

And, we learnt that churros originated from Chinese yu tiao (deep-fried crullers).

“The Spanish and Portuguese added eggs and sugar to the original recipe, transforming it into churros. Mexicans serve them with chocolate or cajeta, caramel sauce spiked with rum, but we omit the alcohol at my restaurant,” says Hernandez.

Lightly crunchy on the outside and chewy, custardy on the inside, the ridged tubular Churros Con Cajeta (RM17) with Mexican caramel was surely one of the best we’ve had. They paired well with Horchata (RM10) − chilled rice milk served with a dusting of cocoa powder.

Churros Con Cajeta.Churros Con Cajeta.

“The Spaniards use xufa, a plant known as tigernuts to make horchata, but I personally don’t like its distinct taste.

“I’ve also replaced cinnamon with cocoa powder as some customers find the spice taste too overpowering,” says Hernandez.

By infusing his creations with subtle Asian influences and a touch of familiarity, Hernandez has certainly made traditional Mexican cuisine more inviting and approachable.

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Staying true to his roots

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